Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Don't these black raspberries look tidy now? Beware; it's tick country.
What is that tickle?
I frantically lift my shirt or my skirt, or drop my pants, and look (to the best of my ability, depending on where the tickle is). Every little ruffle of clothes or brush of a hair tickles. So I'm constantly checking -- especially if I've been crawling around in the garden. Gah! What is that tickle?

I try to be more discreet when I'm in public. But still I check. I haven't had to head to the restroom to check a tickle... yet. But every little tickling sensation raises suspicion.

It is the season of paranoia.

Tick paranoia, that is.

A couple of weeks ago I started work on my black raspberry bed, clearing away extraneous plants, dead canes and weeds, which required much crawling on the ground. I also walked a short way into the nearby tall grass to dump wheelbarrow loads of pruned canes.

As I sat down to dinner that evening I felt something tickling my belly. When I pulled up my shirt I discovered almost a half dozen tiny ticks  crawling up my abdomen. Later I took off my clothes (outside) and found quite a few more clinging to the inside of my shirt and jeans. Yikes!

So the black raspberry patch is a tick haven. Perhaps now that I've removed some of the shade, making it less cozy, the ticks won't like it as much. Maybe. But they seem to be everywhere. When I'm in the garden for any period of time I can expect to bring home a tick or two. These are tiny ticks, most likely the nymph phase, which is their second stage after hatching out. The larval stage ticks are even tinier and have just six legs, while the nymph and adult stages have eight. Yes, eight. They are arachnids not insects.

I think these guys are American dog ticks, not the black-legged deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. The other day I tried looking at a couple with a magnifying glass, but they moved so fast it was hard to get good detail. And counting their legs is nearly impossible.

While the dog ticks supposedly don't transmit Lyme disease, they can transmit other serious diseases, some potentially fatal. That makes thorough (and I do mean thorough; don't get squeamish) body checks necessary every night. (Believe, just taking a shower is not sufficient.) I might begin doing tick checks more than once a day. The sooner you get them off, the less chance they have of transmitting disease. Tick checks are best done with a friend who can more easily check those places you can't check yourself very well. Tick checks with a friend can be fun. Have a glass of wine and some chocolate and go with the flow. Just get all the ticks off first. And flush 'em.

I've also started putting my work clothes in the dryer and running it on high heat for 10 minutes (actually, I give it two or three minutes more) when I come in. That's supposed to kill any ticks still clinging to my apparel.

But I am beginning to tire of ticks just a bit. It seems I must remove my clothes every time I come indoors after working in the garden so I don't shed ticks everywhere. Last night I found four ticks on my husband, and he hadn't even been outside. Today I vacuumed the entire house, hoping to suck up any ticks that might be waiting for one of us to pass by.

Rather than rewrite all the tick info I found on the wide Web I'll just direct you to this link  and send you to K-State Research and Extension where you can find a free, downloadable publication about ticks here; look for publication MF598.

No need to fear, just do tick ch..... Gah! What's that tickle??!!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Garden Spears

It's asparagus season!
This cozy pair of shoots was consumed long ago, as I started my harvest just before the beginning of April. Lunch today included super tasty roasted asparagus. It's also great steamed and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or lightly cooked into stir-fries and other vegetable dishes.

In times past I've been forced to wait until almost mid-April for my first taste of this perennial vegetable. But our recent milder winters and early spring warm-ups seem to have pushed asparagus season up a couple of weeks. While this might appear to be a good thing to some, I'm not sure it is. Harvest should last only a couple of months regardless of when it starts. And last year the asparagus did not seem as productive as in previous years. It doesn't look like it will be quite as productive this year, either.

Some of the lack came from the disappearance of some of the plants. I'm not sure why they died out -- maybe because I don't water them much during droughty conditions. Anyway, this year I bought a half dozen crowns to fill in some empty spots. The nursery employee who checked out my purchases suggested putting rock salt on it. "They love it," he said. True or not true? Most things I read say that salt is an iffy additive at best, and detrimental over the long term at worst. Asparagus tolerates sodium chloride salt better than other plants, so application of rock salt has been used as weed control, but is not actually beneficial to the asparagus otherwise. Although some sources say that's still a controversy.

I'm not planning to use salt on my asparagus, as I did plant parsley in the asparagus bed, which is supposed to be helpful to the asparagus, although I forget how. Anyway, I'm always looking for ways to use my beds for more than one crop. I also get cilantro popping up in the asparagus. Since my husband eats lots of cilantro, I let it grow wherever it wants to -- almost.

Asparagus is relatively easy to grow. It prefers loose soil with plenty of organic matter, although it will still do well in pretty much any soil type, as long as the pH is about neutral. It's getting too late to plant asparagus here in northeast Kansas, so scope out your garden areas and start preparing your asparagus bed now, digging deeply and adding compost. Planting in a raised bed helps keep it well drained in extra rainy times, and allows the soil to warm a little sooner in spring. Don't harvest your asparagus in the year you plant it, and then harvest only minimally until the fourth year, when you can harvest the full eight weeks. You can extend the harvest a couple more weeks by allow a couple of fronds to form for each plant about midway. That provides energy from photosynthesis.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A-Foraging I Go...

Spring thunderstorms roll today; the fifth day of gray raininess.

In between the rains I can go foraging through the gardens. Both cultivated and wild plants provide new growth for me to plunder.

The basket of goodies above made up most of the salad that I had for dinner last night. Spinach from last fall's planting, new and tender horseradish leaves, and one Purple Passion Asparagus spear made up the cultivated portion -- along with a few leaves from my potted lettuce.

On the wild side were chickweed (my favorite), cleavers (it's Everywhere), wild violet leaves, and wild violet flowers (aren't they pretty?).

I topped it with slivers of roasted beets (red and yellow), chopped chives, and a drizzle of olive oil and blackberry-ginger balsamic vinegar. Some nights I'll toss in a few young leaves of lavender mint, lemon balm, monarda, or spearmint. You can't get more gourmet than that. You can't get much more nutritious than that, either.
Tonight I foraged more chickweed (found a new bunch under the elderberries) and some of the beautiful flowers that give the redbud tree its name (shown at left). Chickweed prefers moist and shady areas, although it will tolerate some drought with sufficient shade. It is one of those "winter annuals" that begin growing in mid-to late winter and die back when the weather turns hot.

The chickweed has started to set flower buds, so I'm trying to keep it cut back to encourage new growth and delay flowering. I love its bright green flavor in salads or as a fresh topping on hot dishes. The redbud flowers lend a pea-like flavor. A friend of mine likes to put them on her toast.

Wild plants offer much to us in the way of nutrition and medicinal value. And we also often overlook the tasty edibleness of some of our cultivated plants -- such as the horseradish leaves. I've got to use the horseradish leaves as much as possible now, as they are growing fast and soon will be too tough to eat. Those lovely purple grape hyacinth flowers growing in the front of my house also are edible. And the flowers of johnny-jump-ups and other violas, such as pansies. Roses, daylily buds and tubers... the list goes on.

Most people would include stinging nettles on their list of wild foods, but I cannot honestly do that, since I cultivate them. By "cultivate" I mean I give them a few spots to grow and do not discourage them (until they wander into the paths). I even pull weeds out of the nettle patch. Nettles are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Really, really good for you. They have a rich flavor that goes well with onions and other strong flavors, although steamed nettles topped with butter and a bit of salt are melt-in-my-mouth scrumptious. This is the best time to pick them, when they're young and tender. Cooking and drying take out their sting.

Another wild edible I will utilize in a month or so is lambs quarters. Related to spinach, this plant is even more nutritious than its cultivated cousin. And tasty. It tastes like spinach, only better. Of course I'm eating the dandelions, too. The entire plant is edible and medicinal. Later the purslane will begin to take over some parts of the garden. Might as well eat it.

Foraging is lots of fun. You'd be surprised at all the stuff around you that is edible. This article from Mother Earth News (it's old but relevant) gives good information about wild foraging, as well as a list of wild edibles. Of course the list is incomplete (it doesn't even include cleavers) and not all of these will be available everywhere.

Plants don't have to be wild to be part of the foraging. The forage can include parts of plants people don't normally consider eating, but which are eminently edible, or cultivated plants that have their own ideas about where to grow. A friend of mine (yes, the one who eats redbud blossoms) makes "sidewalk salad" from the various things that spring up between the stones in her paths. The salad can include a wide variety of things, from dandelion greens to the arugula and lemon balm that scatter seeds everywhere.

Just be sure you know for absolute certain the identity of a plant, and which part is edible before you go noshing.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Farewell in Spring

On the day of my last post we learned that a friend had died that morning. It seems utterly appropriate that the day of his death would bring the first significant rainfall that we've had in months. The rain is like a balm.

It is spring. As we grieve loss, the world around us comes back to life and blooms. Each blossom brings hope. Each new green shoot reminds us that life pushes up from darkness. I feel grounded by the reminder of this constant and eternal flow; the ever-turning wheel.

Tears wet our faces as the rain drips from the yellow blooms.
And the rain continues.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Water is Life

Rain on the Daffodils.
At last.

After several months with little to no precipitation, the sound of heavy rain on the roof is the sweetest music. All the muscles in my body relaxed with that sound. Other issues seemed less distressing once the rain started pounding and actually creating mud.

Lately I'd become increasingly aware of every drop of water I used. Dish water, and water used to wash vegetables got dumped on the herbs and flowers surrounding the house. Sometimes I'd even wander over to the asparagus bed with the water. Use and reuse. When waiting for the water from the tap to get hot, I collect it in my watering can to use later on the potted plants. Every time I let water go down the drain instead of getting used, I felt a bit guilty.

So far we've had about an inch and a half of precipitation since yesterday morning, with more to come, according to the forecast.

But I don't consider the potential drought averted. That can only become known over the next few weeks. Still, we've had a reprieve. The seeds and plants I put in the ground this past week are getting what they need. I am more hopeful about this growing season.

Water is Life. Nothing lives without it. Nothing.
Don't forget that.
I will still try to be conscious of every drop of water I use; especially that which might be going to waste.
Water is precious. Water is Life.
It shouldn't take drought or the loss of all our clean water to remind us of that simple fact.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Just a Pretty Picture

Gray and snowy, with the promise of low temperature in the low 20s tonight.
But this recently opened amaryllis brightens the day.
I have a couple of other pots of amaryllis sporting multiple orange-red blossoms, as well. When they first opened a week (or two?) ago, they seemed huge and brilliant. Now they seem dwarfed by this large bright pink-red blossom that towers over them. I have kept these bulbous plants going for more than 10 years by setting the pots outside on the north side of the house, or another shady spot for the summer and bringing them indoors for the winter.

Last year I finally learned how to get them to bloom more reliably. Bring them indoors for the winter, preferably before the first frost, and stop watering them. I set mine in our attached garage. They don't need light. Let the leaves dry up and look dead. Previously I would bring them in the house for the winter and try to keep them green and growing. Sometimes they would bloom, sometimes not. Letting them go completely dormant should make them bloom more reliably. This year they have more blooms than usual. Except the big one, which has only one flower stalk. But it didn't bloom at all last year.

When I saw ready for them to bloom, I brought them into the warmth of the house, set them where they got light, and started watering them. Within a couple of weeks or so they sent up green blades that were followed by flower stalks. And, bada bing, brilliant blossoms. But it took at least a month to get from leafless to flowering.

Next year I might bring them into the house sooner, so I can have blooms in January, maybe even in December. Maybe not in December; they'd overshadow the Thanksgiving Cactus that bloomed throughout November and December. You also can follow the same method, but set them outdoors in spring and have these gorgeous members of the lily family setting fire to your gardens.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Getting Nettled, and Other Signs of Spring

Picked my first basketful of nettles before dinner yesterday. Yes, the stinging kind.
And I did it with my bare hands. Of course, at this young stage their sting is pretty mild.
I made a pot of stew rife with some of these nutritious nettle greens, stewed in chicken bone broth with carrots, celery, kale and sweet potatoes, seasoned with oregano, garlic powder and salt and pepper.

Nettle harvest isn't the only sign of spring. You've already met the crocuses. Yesterday I noticed daffodils blooming. And the vultures are back. Two of them, anyway. On the windiest of windy days earlier this week we saw two vultures circling. Even in the high wind (gusts of up to 40 miles per hour) these large birds seemed unruffled. They dove into the wind, moving forward without a flap. Instead they merely angled their wings to guide themselves through. Pure inspiration. Face the wind and move through it without struggling, but flowing. Taoists, surely.

The inspirational flights of the vultures prompted us to rename our little piece of paradise as Spirit Bird Farm. We had tired of Cedar Springs Farm, a name we chose before we really knew this place, and when the springs still ran, filling the pond. The springs are no longer reliable, although the cedars are even bigger and more abundant.

We have lots of spirit birds here. The hawks were very prominent in the sky this past winter. Occasionally bald eagles fly overhead. Barred howls laugh uproariously in the night. The crows have their charms. And then we have all these songbirds and other small birds.

But it is the vultures that define our sense of spirit bird. Soaring and circling, swooping and rising, rising, rising... silently, gracefully. They always seemed to be making the most of their "work," their search for food. And when a silent shadow passes over me as I work outside, I am reminded to be here now, for I too am mortal.